The Long Road to Iva Bell

Iva Bell Hot Springs are a backcountry hotspot for warm pools of water. The journey would bring us through thorny bushes, over many large logs, across bridged rivers and finally battling algae in these backcountry host springs. In all the trip would take us 35 miles, 6,800 ft over two long days.

Planning the Route

Normally people hike out of Reds Meadow for a round trip of 25 miles, 4000 ft. However, in the off seasons the road to Reds Meadow is not open and you have to either hike down the road, cross Mammoth Pass or cross Duck Pass. Given its still early season we decided to follow a friend’s example and go over Mammoth Pass as that had much lower elevations (i.e. less snow) than Duck Pass and was a little shorter than hiking down the road into Reds Meadow. Surprisingly, even though there is little snow near the Mammoth Lakes Basin, the road was closed to the trailhead at Horseshoe Lake adding another couple miles.

We started hiking from where we could park our car at 6:30am in high spirits and quickly made it up to the trailhead. Snow was immediately present from the trailhead and would be so for elevations above 8,900 ft in mid-May. It was easy to get ‘off trail’ on the blanketed snow without any foot falls to follow, but we sorta meandered our way near the trail and caught it on the other side of the pass when the snow blanket became patches.

The snow we hiked over above 8.8k ft.

After descending Mammoth Pass to Reds Meadow, we hiked down canyon through sun-exposed bushes. We didn’t double check our route at a junction and took a well trodden trail that turned out wasn’t on the map. To get back on the main trail we had to cross a couple hundred feet of thorny bush. By the end I had inch long thorns sticking out of my pants, but I faired better than my friend who was wearing shorts.

The only way forward is through

Back on the main trail, we hiked along brush and then granite trail beside a river flowing eventually into a waterfall.

The gushing waterfall you pass

There is a magnificent canyon in front of you, but you hang left to descend down sun-drowned switchbacks to Fish Creek. From here we hiked through forests with tons of huge downed logs diverting us around or over them (this is earlier than when the Forest Service comes out to clear the trails). It was particularly warm ascending this canyon, enough that I threw up from overheating (which has never happened before).

Can you find the trail?

Finally we reached Iva Bell hot springs at 4:30pm (10hrs) after 17 miles, it was a big hill.

Starting to look for hot springs

We crossed Fish Creek and then slowly started heading uphill looking for tubs. We found three that were scummed all up from a season of algae accumulating on their surface.

The first scummy hot springs we found

All tubs were warm, but not hot. Eventually we found one of the highest campsites with a nearby tub partially cleaned out and setup for the evening.

The hot spring experience was okay, sitting in an algae pool with warm water. The views were pretty good down canyon and there was no one there except myself and my friend. We capped off the night by watching texturized clouds in golden light at sunset. This early in season we hadn’t expected mosquitos but the dumb early season mosquitos were plentiful as we ate our dinner.

Already partially descummed, we cleaned up the rest of this pool for a soak

The next morning we woke up near first light to hit the trail at 6:45am with the goal of reaching and camping near Rainbow Falls. However, we really cruised the morning and arrived at Rainbow Falls at noon.

Rainbow Falls is gushing

After an hour nap, we decided we had enough energy and light to make it all the way out instead of taking three days. The climb to Mammoth Pass was brutal and slow and I wondered if my legs would keep lifting one after another due to how tired they were. Eventually we made it back to the car at 4:45, taking about an hour a mile for the final 5 miles, 2000 ft elevation gain.